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Increased NYCHA Services Still Leave Asian Tenants in Dark, Activists Say

By Allegra Hobbs | April 11, 2016 1:39pm
 CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities is pushing NYCHA to provide more language options on its automated customer service phone system.
CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities is pushing NYCHA to provide more language options on its automated customer service phone system.
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NEW YORK CITY — As the city’s public housing authority adds more Asian language services to its customer service phone system in response to pressure from elected officials, tenant advocacy groups say the city still is not doing enough.

The New York City Housing Authority has added Mandarin and Cantonese language options to its automated customer phone system, a week after Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez wrote a letter to the agency requesting the change — but tenants who speak Korean and Bangla are still deprived of language resources, according to activist group CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities, which has previously criticized the authority for its limited language services.

“This is good news, but at the same time, we are very cautious and want to continue to be proactive about having other languages included,” said Shahana Hanif, a public housing organizer for CAAAV.

Prior to the change, NYCHA’s Customer Contact Center’s automated phone system provided service only for English and Spanish speakers, despite the fact that more than 7,900 city families in public housing are Asian immigrants or of Asian heritage, according to Velázquez’s office.

The congresswoman in response penned a letter to the authority requesting the addition of Mandarin and Cantonese, noting that it's the third most common language after English and Spanish in terms of the number of requests for aid from NYCHA.

The additions are a huge step towards greater inclusivity in NYCHA’s tenant services, said the congresswoman.

“This change was overdue and I’m glad to see it being addressed,” Velázquez said in a statement. “We must continue working to make all elements of NYCHA more responsive to New York’s diverse communities.”

CAAAV insists the authority should strive for greater inclusivity — the group is calling on NYCHA to conduct a citywide assessment to determine the needs of other immigrant communities using their services, and to determine which language groups remain underserved.

Furthermore, the main menu of the automated system is in English, said Hanif — creating confusion for non-English speaking tenants, she said.

CAAAV continues to receive input from Asian public housing tenants complaining that they have difficulty navigating the menu options when attempting to call NYCHA for assistance, said Hanif.

A NYCHA spokesperson stated that the agency is working with CAAAV to re-assess the language needs of residents and applicants who speak limited English, and will begin conducting a survey to record the languages of those seeking assistance to provide better service within the next few months.